Surprises, e.g. a Brother-in-Law

Last weekend was an exciting and unusual experience, full of exciting (expected) things interspersed with a handful of exciting (unexpected) things. Let’s go chronologically:

Thursday/Friday – Mario, Magic, Marriage

I left work, picked up a rental car (having unfortunately forgotten to take my counterpart driving license to the rental place, I had the choice of either cycling for an hour to collect it or else paying a fiver for them to run a DVLA check, and I opted for the latter on the grounds that an hour of my time (especially if I have to spend it cycling back and forth along the same stretch of road) is worth more to me than a picture of Elizabeth Fry. I drove home, packed a bag, said goodbye to Ruth, JTA, and Annabel, and drove up to Preston.

"I just found this card."
“I just found this card; is it yours? Maybe it will be, later.”

There, I spent most of Friday playing the new Mario game with my sister Becky, gave a few small performances of magic (did I mention I’m doing magic nowadays? – guess that’ll have to wait for another blog post) at various places around Preston, and went out for a curry with my mother, my sisters Becky and Sarah, and Sarah’s boyfriend Richard. So far, so ordinary, right? Well that’s where things took a turn. Because as Becky, our mother, and I looked at the drinks menu as we waited for Sarah and her boyfriend to turn up… something different happened instead.

Sarah and Richard announce to the rest of the family that they're now married.
Never before in our family has a marriage been conducted with so little pomp nor pre-planning. Except for our mother’s, of course.

Sarah turned up with her husband.

It turns out that they’d gotten married earlier that afternoon. They’d not told anybody in advance – nobody at all – but had simply gone to the registry office (via a jewellers, to rustle up some rings, and a Starbucks, to rustle up some witnesses) and tied the knot. Okay; that’s not strictly true: clearly they had at least three weeks planning on account of the way that marriage banns work in the UK. Any case case, I’ve suddenly got the temptation to write some software that monitors marriage announcements (assuming there are XML feeds, or something) and compares them to your address book to let you know if anybody you know is planning to elope, just to save me from the moment of surprise that caught me out in a curry house on Friday evening.

Richard pushes Sarah around Sainsburys.
Tie some cans behind that trolley and spray “just married” on it in shaving foam, would you?

So it turns out I’ve acquired a brother-in-law. He’s a lovely chap and everything, but man, that was surprising. There’ll doubtless be more about it in Episode 32 of Becky’s “Family Vlog”, so if there was ever an episode that you ought to watch, then it’s this one – with its marriage surprise and (probably) moments of magic – that you ought to keep an eye out for.

Saturday/Sunday – Distillery, Drinking, Debauchery

Next, I made my way up to Edinburgh to meet up with Matt R and his man-buddies for a stag night to remember. Or, failing that, a stag night to forget in a drunken haze: it’s been a long, long time since I’ve drunk like I did on that particular outing. After warming up with a beer or two in our hotel room, the five of us made our way to the Glenkinchie Distillery, for a wonderful exploration into the world of whiskies.

Still #1 at the Glenkinchie Distillery.
It’s hard to appreciate how large the pair of stills at Glenkinchie are, if you’ve only seen the stills at other Scottish distilleries before. See the people in the background, for scale.

And then, of course, began the real drinking. Four or five whiskies at the distillery bar, followed by another beer back in the hotel room, followed by a couple more beers at bars, followed by another four whiskies at the Whiski Rooms (which I’d first visited while in Edinburgh for the fringe, last year), followed by a beer with dinner… and I was already pretty wiped-out. Another of the ‘stags’ and I – he equally knackered and anticipating a full day of work, in the morning – retired to the hotel room while the remainder took Matt out “in search of a titty bar” (a mission in which, I gather, they were unsuccessful).

The Glenkinchie Distillery bar.
The Glenkinchie Distillery bar carries a full range of Diageo Scotch whiskies, plus a handful of other brands, and expert staff are on hand to help with tasting.

Do you remember being in your early twenties and being able to throw back that kind of level of booze without so much as a shudder? Gosh, it gets harder a decade later. On the other hand, I was sufficiently pickled that I wasn’t for a moment disturbed by the gents I was sharing a room with, who I should re-name “snore-monster”, “fart-monster”, and “gets-up-a-half-dozen-times-during-the-night-to-hug-the-toilet-bowl-monster”. I just passed out and stayed that way until the morning came, when I went in search of a sobering double-helping of fried food to set me right before the long journey back to Oxford.

All in all: hell of a stag night, and a great pre-party in anticipation of next weekend’s pair of weddings… y’know, the ones which I’d stupidly thought would be the only two couples I knew who’d be getting married this fortnight!

Instead Of Blogging…

Things I’ve been doing instead of blogging, this last month, include:

  • Code Week: hacking Three Rings code in a converted hay loft of a Derbyshire farm, as mentioned on the Three Rings blog.
  • Hoghton Tower: as is traditional at this time of year (see blog posts from 2010, 2009, 2005, 2003, for example), went to Preston for the Hoghton Tower concert and fireworks display, accompanied by Ruth, and my sister’s 22nd birthday. My other sister has more to say about it.
  • Family Picnic: Joining Ruth and JTA at Ruth’s annual family picnic, among her billions of second-cousins and third-aunts.
  • New Earthwarming: Having a mini housewarming on New Earth, where I live with Ruth, JTA, and Paul. A surprising number of people came from surprisingly far away, and it was fascinating to see some really interesting networking being done by a mixture of local people (from our various different “circles” down here) and distant guests.
  • Bodleian Staff Summer Party: Yet another reason to love my new employer! The drinks and the hog roast (well, roast vegetable sandwiches and falafel wraps for me, but still delicious) would have won me over by themselves. The band was just a bonus. The ice cream van that turned up and started dispensing free 99s: that was all just icing on the already-fabulous cake.
  • TeachMeet: Giving a 2-minute nanopresentation at the first Oxford Libraries TeachMeet, entitled Your Password Sucks. A copy of my presentation (now with annotations to make up for the fact that you can’t hear me talking over it) has been uploaded to the website.
  • New Earth Games Night: Like Geek Night, but with folks local to us, here, some of whom might have been put off by being called “Geeks”, in that strange way that people sometimes do. Also, hanging out with the Oxford On Board folks, who do similar things on Monday nights in the pub nearest my office.
  • Meeting Oxford Nightline: Oxford University’s Nightline is just about the only Nightline in the British Isles to not be using Three Rings, and they’re right on my doorstep, so I’ve been meeting up with some of their folks in order to try to work out why. Maybe, some day, I’ll actually understand the answer to that question.
  • Alton Towers & Camping: Ruth and I decided to celebrate the 4th anniversary of us getting together with a trip to Alton Towers, where their new ride, Thirteen, is really quite good (but don’t read up on it: it’s best enjoyed spoiler-free!), and a camping trip in the Lake District, with an exhausting but fulfilling trek to the summit of Glaramara.
Setting up camp at Stonethwaite.

That’s quite a lot of stuff, even aside from the usual work/volunteering/etc. stuff that goes on in my life, so it’s little wonder that I’ve neglected to blog about it all. Of course, there’s a guilt-inspired downside to this approach, and that’s that one feels compelled to not blog about anything else until finishing writing about the first neglected thing, and so the problem snowballs.

So this quick summary, above? That’s sort-of a declaration of blogger-bankruptcy on these topics, so I can finally stop thinking “Hmm, can’t blog about X until I’ve written about Code Week!”

Busy Weekends Part I

The weekend before the weekend before last, Ruth, JTA and I went up to Preston, for:

My Sister’s Birthday


My sister, Sarah, turned 21 at the start of this month, and we – accompanied by her friends and family – went out to a new Punjabi restaurant called East Z East. The food was fantastic (although in hindsight we probably should have adapted the formula as far as naan bread is concerned, at least – each naan bread was about three feet long!), but the restaurant was a little full! Perhaps be better on a midweek night.

And…

Hoghton Tower

As has become traditional (see blog entries for 2009, 2005, 2003), the next stop was Hoghton Tower for their annual concert and fireworks display. As usual, this event began with the erection of a gazebo in which to have our picnic.


The instructions for the gazebo clearly stated that it was to be constructed by two adults, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to help Ruth and JTA building it, except in a supervisory capacity. I helpfully assembled the first deckchair and sat in it, drinking a beer and overseeing the process.


My management skills paid off, and soon we had a gazebo, tables, and a (huge) picnic.


Some of my sister Becky‘s friends had brought face paints and brushes with them, so we formed a line of people, each painting the face of the next. My mum painted mine: she asked what I wanted, so I told her that I wanted a narwhal, breaching the water and leaping for the sky. I think she did a pretty good job:


Then came my turn. I was to paint Ruth, but she didn’t know what she wanted. The suggestion came that I should paint a rubber duck on her forehead, and so long as you don’t mind ducks that look like they’re from canary heritage:


The concert itself was even better than normal – the arsenal of fireworks was even huger than we were used to, and was supplemented by the addition of a laser show, too! I was slightly disappointed that God Save The Queen wasn’t performed (not for any patriotic reason, I’m sure you understand – I’m just used to them playing it!). Still, a great night, and a fabulous excuse for me to re-educate Ruth in how to count to three (in order to waltz, you see: it’s incredibly difficult to dance when one participant is counting to three and the other is counting to two).

Hoghton Tower

Claire and I just got back from a weekend in Preston, taking the opportunity to visit my folks as well as to (as is now traditional) go to the annual “Symphony at the Tower” at Hoghton Tower (which Ruth and I buzzed by hot air balloon on our way back from Scotland, earlier this year).

Highlights included:

Sticking marshmallows to Claire while eating our picnic in the gazebo we would later abandon on the site after many years of faithful service.

The music. Of course. The Philharmonic Concert Orchestra were as good as ever.

Dancing! (some folks started dancing a lot sooner than others, as shown)

Whatever’s going on here! (I think perhaps I’m too far away from the stage and can’t see what’s going on, even wearing borrowed jam-jar-thickness glasses).

My sister insisting on getting to be in a photo with the mayor. I think she thinks that by putting this picture on Facebook and tagging it, it’ll somehow help her future political career.

The rain pouring down. Thankfully, we were equipped and ready with emergency poncho supplies, so we were able to carry on leaping around like mad fools and letting only the bottom part of our sleeves get wet. Claire later had to wring hers out. Spirits remained undampened.

Claire falling in love with a singer wearing Union Jack trousers. In the photo, I think he’s singing “Jerusalem“.

The fireworks at the end of the concert were particularly spectacular this year, despite the weather. It was great to catch up with my family again, too (and visit my sister Becky‘s work, leap around on my dad’s trampoline until I injured my back doing so, liberate eggs from my mum’s chickens, and so on), although the journey to and from Preston was particularly tiresome this time around, and I’m sure my travelsickness is getting more pronounced. There’s more photos from the trip here.

Back in Aber, I’ve got a few fun little projects to be working on, alongside the usual things that keep me busy. I’ll blog about a few of these when I get the chance.

Quickly, Before They Turn The Glass Into Lesbians!

So, what have I been up to this weekend, you ask. Well…

“Cover The Mirrors” Launch Party

On Friday I took the train up to Preston. The train I was on broke down at Machynlleth when they linked it up to the carriages that had come down the Pwllheli line, and the repairs set me back by almost an hour, but it turns out that the rest of the rail network was running behind schedule that day, too, and so I didn’t miss any important connections. I arrived in time for a quick “birthday tea” with my family (for my dad’s birthday) before rushing off to the Waterstones for the launch party for my friend Faye‘s first published novel, Cover The Mirrors.

Dan with author Faye at the book launch

I drank as much wine as the store were willing to give me and bought myself a signed copy of the book. I even managed to get the photo, above, under the proviso that it’s only allowed to appear on the internet thanks to the fact that I’m holding a carrier bag in front of Faye’s face (she’s more than a little camera-shy). I haven’t started reading Cover The Mirrors yet, because I’m virtually at the end of The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, and I’d like to finish that first, but little doubt you’ll hear about it here in due course.

Dad’s Birthday

After the book launch, my sisters and I took my dad out for a few drinks to celebrate his 51st birthday. It turns out that, in my absence, Preston’s nightclub scene has really taken off. We started out in an 80s-themed bar which is part of a chain called Reflex. It’s so 80s it’s unreal: all 80s hits playing, David Hasselhoff and Mr. T decorating every wall, glitter balls and spots and mirrors everywhere… deely-boppers available at the bar… and so on. Really quite a fantastic theme venue. Then, under my sister Sarah’s recommendation, we tootled up the street and into a cafe/club called Manyana, where my dad got hit on by somebody young enough to be his daughter.

My dad and some 20-something year-old

I snatched this picture. I’ve no idea who she is – we didn’t get her name – but she seemed genuinely surprised to hear my dad’s age. So I had the DJ announce it, just to make sure there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that there was an old person on the dancefloor.

This influx of Preston nightclubs is making them all remarkably competitive with their drinks prices, too. I bought a few rounds for the four of us and none of them ever came to over a tenner, and one – thanks to the “buy one get one free” policy at Manyana – came to under £6, which is quite remarkable for a city nightclub on a Friday night for four people!

Back To Aberystwyth

On Saturday I had brunch with my sister Becky, my mum, and her boyfriend and then got back onto the trains to head back to Aberystwyth. Owing to line maintenance, the stretch of track between Crewe and Preston is unusable every weekend within sight, and so I was re-directed via Manchester Picadilly. Yet again, my train ran late, and I found myself sprinting accross Picadilly station, trying to find a train that was heading Shrewsbury-way…

…meanwhile, my friend Katie, having slept through her stop, woke up in Manchester Picadilly and, not quite awake, clambered off her train in an attempt to find a connection. I’d apparently featured in her dream, and so she was quite surprised (and not quite sure if she was seeing things) when I sprinted past her. She sent a text (which I chose to ignore: my pocket beeped but I was too busy looking for a train to take the time to get my phone out) and then phoned me before she was able to confirm that yes, it really was me.

As we were headed the same way, she joined me on my train for one stop, which was a nice surprise for what was a long and overcomplicated train journey. A few folks have suggested that this might not be a coincidence, and that she might be stalking me, but I’m yet to be convinced.

In any case, I don’t have a picture to go with this part of the story. Sorry.

Jimmy, Beth, and Troma Night

YATN. If you were there, you know how it went. Big thanks to Jimmy and Beth for coming along.

Lloyd Kaufman’s Visit

In case you’ve not been anywhere that I can pounce on you and go “squee!” recently, here’s what you missed out on. You’ll remember that last week I mentioned that PoultrygeistTroma‘s new movie – was coming to Aberystwyth. Well, it did. And it rocked…

…and better yet, Ruth, Claire, JTA, Paul and I got to hang out with Lloyd Kaufman, president of Troma Studios and producer of The Toxic Avenger, for a couple of pints and to share a bowl of nachos. The guy’s fabulously chatty and friendly, and if it weren’t for the awestruck feeling of “wow, we’re just sat here chatting with Lloyd Kaufman in Lord Beechings” we’d have probably been more interesting company.

Dan, Claire, !!!LLOYD KAUFMAN!!!, JTA, and Ruth

When he said goodbye, kissing the cheeks of each of the girls, I genuinely thought that they were in danger of exploding with excitment. Thankfully they didn’t, because I’d already bought them tickets to see Poultrygeist later on.

Which was, as I’ve said before, fantastic. It’s even better seen with a nice, energised audience, and better still when the director and several other people who worked on the film are hanging around afterwards to answer questions, chat, autograph things and so on. There are apparently 15 prints of Poultrygeist and the capacity to make more on demand, so if you want to see it and can’t wait for the DVD release, go speak to your local cinema now and ask if they’ll show Poultrygeist, even if only for a week (as Lloyd himself said, it’s better than showing Transformers on all 24 screens of some soulless megaplex). And hell, with Troma’s current financial situation, they could probably do with a helping hand with getting into as many projection booths as possible!

The title of this post – Quickly, Before They Turn The Glass Into Lesbians! – is a reference to one of my favourite lines in the film.

Paul might have bitten off more than he can chew, though, as he hinted on his blog. After some discussion with Lloyd, Paul is likely to be responsible for:

  • Re-establishing the UK division of the Troma fan club.
  • Acting as president of the above, for the forseeable future.
  • Investigating UK distribution of Troma films.
  • Oh, and making an official DVD subtitle track for Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead, which describes the Troma Night drinking rules and reminds you when you should be drinking. He’s got a few ideas about things that should be in such a subtitle track, too, and if you’re familiar with the rules you’ll probably be able to guess what he’s thinking about.

I’ll leave it to him to go into detail, if he wishes.

Matt In Hospital

Between places, we also joined a growing crowd at the foot of Matt‘s bed in Bronglais Hospital. His operation was a success, but he’s reacted unusually to the general anasthetic and they’re likely to keep him in for observation for another few days. If you haven’t had a chance to visit him already, he’d probably appreciate the company (although Sarah seems to have barely left his side): visiting hours are 3pm-5pm, 6pm-8pm: just ask if you need to know what ward he’s in and how to get there. If you’re feeling particularly cruel, mock him by talking about how well your bodily excretions are working, or swap his drip with his catheter bag while he’s not looking.

But seriously: I’m sure we all wish him well.

Curry!

Finally – as if we weren’t full enough from a large Sunday lunch – after leaving the cinema, Gareth, Penny, Amy, Ruth, JTA, Claire and I slipped down for a late-night curry at the Spice of Bengal. Which was delicious, although there was a little much food for those of us who were already quite full.

Dan eating curry!

Nonetheless, a fantastic end to a fantastic weekend! I’m sure everybody else will have a different story to tell (Paul spent longer with Lloyd and went to more films; Claire and Jimmy got horribly drunk together on Friday night after she, Ruth and JTA failed to see a Meatloaf concert; Matt’ll have his own morphine-fuelled tale to spin, and so on), because it’s been a rich, full couple of days for many of us abnibbers.

Not Quite Where We Planned To Be

Claire and I are in Preston. Let me explain how this came about.

As I mentioned, we spent Friday night and most of Saturday in Gregynog, a beautiful stately home owned by the University of Wales and used as a conference venue. Every year, the Computer Science department ships almost the entirety of the second year out there to learn how better to get a job, in anticipation of hopefully getting an industry year placement the following year. Claire, as a department staff member, was invited along to help organise a group of students. I was invited along as an representative of the computer industry, there to give mock interviews to students of the kind that they might expect when applying for computer science related jobs for their industry year or for graduate positions.

It was a lot of fun. I met some interesting people and, with their help, got to grill students. Perhaps my favourite part was successfully catching out students who had… how shall we say it… exaggerated a little on their CVs. One fellow, I remember, had, while boasting about his web development proficiency, stated that he was familiar with HTTP. So I asked him what the fundamental differences between a GET and a POST method were. I’d have accepted something about request parameters being visible on the address bar, but no: no such luck. It was also good to be pleasantly surprised, such as by the database-proficient claimant I met who successfully, with a pause, disassembled the huge database relationship diagram I gave to him. My co-interviewer says I’m evil. I replied that I was merely thorough.

On Saturday night, in accordance with our plans, we continued on to Warrington to visit Gareth and Liz‘s new place. Gareth didn’t seem quite ‘with it’. But the food was good and I regretted eating so well at Gregynog that I couldn’t guzzle more, and the company was even better. After the party came to a quiet end, we dropped off Jimmy at his home in Runcorn, and decided to move on up to Preston to say “hi” to my folks.

Needless to say, my mum was at least a little surprised when Claire and I waltzed into her bedroom. We didn’t waltz, mind. More of a polka. But she was surprised, regardless. My dad returns from Vietnam today, so we’re hoping to catch him and have lunch before we return to Aber.

Paul: I bet, despite her trying to remind herself on several occasions, Claire’s still forgotten to call you to tell you that we’re unlikely to make the 2:30 screening of Howl’s Moving Castle at the Arts Centre, so I hope you read this before then.

Thursday Afternoon

Good progress at work today, easily catching up on the things I didn’t get done yesterday on account of having been at the Royal Welsh Show.

AbNib is proving itself popular, but I’m still not happy with it: there are a load of really cool features I’d like to add, yet. But that’s a job for another day. I’ll be up in Lancashire this weekend for Andy‘s party and to visit my folks, so I can’t do it then, either.

Claire’s gotten herself temporarily sterilized with a fantastic hyperdermic full of progesterone and with the aid of the nice people at Aberystwyth Family Planning Clinic. Woo and indeed hoo. She’s (theoretically) a lot less likely to forget to have an injection every three months than she is to forget to take the pill: something she’s demonstrated herself to be very proficient at.

I’ve been excessivley stressed for the last 48 or so hours. I think it’s mostly a result of having no money and my paycheque still being a week away, and having to live off my credit card in the meantime (which I don’t like doing). Also that my crisp-wound in my mouth from the other day has developed into a spot which would probably heal faster and hurt less if I could stop playing with it, but I can’t. And that I’m not making nearly as much coding progress on Three Rings as I should be.

I have a strange urge to go for a long walk in the rain this evening. I hope it rains.

The Return From Lancashire

Spent the last four days in Lancashire and elsewhere in the North of England, visiting my folks (among other things). Details follow…

Sunday 29th June 2003
Dan’s Mum’s House, Preston
Helped fix my mum’s fence, and enjoyed the challenge of removing a pigeon from her gutter. This stupid bird, it seems, on a collision course for the house (shitting on the window as it came), struck the roof with sufficient force to kill itself, and then rolled gracefully into the gutter, where it became lodged.

Using a clever combination of metal rods and string, Claire and I were able to lasso it’s foot from one of the upstairs windows and, a few pokes later, lob it’s rotting corpse down to my sister, waiting below.

My dad kindly let me take one of his bikes – Silver Machine – back to Aber with me, which’ll make getting to and from work a lot nicer. Must buy a lock for it.

Got back at about midnight. Claire spent most of the night tied to the bed, which was fun. Enough said.

Back From Lancashire, Continued

Spent the last four days in Lancashire and elsewhere in the North of England, visiting my folks (among other things). Details follow…

Saturday 28th June 2003
Dan’s Mum’s House, Preston
More video games. Yet again I won at Mario Party 4. Claire is starting to get really pissed-off with always coming second-place. I don’t think she’d mind being last or second-to-last all the time, but coming second-place time and time again really seems to annoy her. Particularly when I proceed to dance around the room chanting “I am the Party Star!” at the top of my voice. Ah well.

Horton Tower, Horton
Went with Claire and my family to see the annual symphony orchestra at Horton Tower. It wasn’t as good as last year, but it was still fun. Taught Claire to waltz.

More to follow…

Back From Lancashire, Continued

Spent the last four days in Lancashire and elsewhere in the North of England, visiting my folks (among other things). Details follow…

Friday 27th June 2003
Dan’s Mum’s House, Preston
Played on Claire’s Nintendo GameCube with Claire, my mum, and sisters. I won at Mario Party 4.
Went to meet the managing director who’ll be taking over from my dad upon his retirement. He didn’t seem remotely scared enough by the idea that if my dad fell under a bus (oh; the irony of a transport consultant being run over by a public transport vehicle), I’d be his majority shareholder, nor did he seem to believe all the stories the rest of the staff told about me. He’ll be taught to fear me, yet… <evil grin>

Later, met up with Andy, Dan’s AvAngel.com co-webmaster, and played more video games, before going out for KFC and to see Bruce Almighty at the cinema, which was a pretty damn cool film.

Finally, retired to my mum’s house for yet more video games. I won at Mario Party 4. Again.

More to follow…

Back From Lancashire

Spent the last four days in Lancashire and elsewhere in the North of England, visiting my folks (among other things). Details follow…

Thursday 26th June 2003
Linux Expo 2003, Birmingham
Sorted out Claire’s bank, packed bags, and set off for Birmingham to the last day of Linux Expo 2003 at the National Exhibition Centre, to meet up with Gareth and some other geeks to talk about a project on which my input could be valuable. Gareth is going to come over to Aberystwyth next weekend and we’ll knock together a prototype of the system we’ve suggested.

Claire got scared by the vast numbers of stereotypical geeks (and the distinct overdose of testosterone in the air – she was one of only three women in the whole place), and by the fact that, unlike normal, she couldn’t understand one in three words spoken. I smiled. She’s got a little way to go to earn her geek stripes, yet.

Bon Jovi, Manchester
Arrived late at Old Trafford – missed the support group, but in time to try to find standing room before Bon Jovi came on-stage. All-in-all, a good concert: Claire was a little short for standing on the pitch to have been a good idea, and the sound quality was a little below-par owing to a lack of adequate repeater speakers, and the only beer available was Budweiser and Boddingtons, but it was still a pretty good gig. Went to a Manchester pub afterwards before catching a really, really late train home. Got to bed sometime after 3am.

More to follow…